Monday, November 10, 2008

Warning: I’m going to play language cop. And just to irritate you further, I’m going to make some sweeping generalizations while I do.

Over the past generation, there has been a marked decline in the use of many ugly words in the English language. Well, at least from the language of decent people. Racial and ethnic pejoratives are no longer the norm, or at least not in public places. Some people call it political correctness others call it common decency. Either way, significant progress has been made. Certainly, there is a long way to go; but we have learned as a culture that these words are hateful and hurtful. Admittedly, many individuals have not yet learned this, but overall the collective consciousness has been raised and good people refrain from using them.

Middle schoolers and those of similar developmental maturity still use the word “gay” to describe things; and generally it has nothing to do with sexual orientation. “That jacket is ‘gay’” simply doesn’t make sense. Of course, that term or others like it are still used to tease, judge and hurt. Culturally, we have farther to go in this area, but hopefully this too is waning.

One word that is equally hurtful, but has not seemed to resonate with the cultural language cops is: “retard”.

For some reason using this word hasn’t come under the same microscope and remains acceptable even among the decent folk who would never consider using racial, ethnic or cultural pejoratives.

It needs to go.

Describing someone as a retard is …. Well …. no, I won’t say it.

Presumably, the use of the word is meant to imply that someone is stupid or unable to do a simple task. Of course, that has nothing to do with actual mental retardation, which is an innate disability over which the afflicted person has no control. Equating that disability with stupidity is ignorant. Using the term in an effort to be funny is anything but.

The term is in the same class as the racial, ethnic and sexual orientation pejoratives. Though it may not be intended as such, using it in that way is equally hateful and hurtful. We need a collective cringe

When my boys were younger they knew not to use that word in my presence. When their friends were in my house or my car and used that word, they were immediately lectured. Several people have learned not to say that word – or at least not to say it around me. I can remember one friend of #1 son saying that in the back of the car and I looked in the rearview in time to see #1 sock him in the leg and say, “Don’t get my mom started.” I just smiled. To quote George W. “mission accomplished.” I didn’t have to say anything.

I do not suggest we start beating each other up to eliminate the word, but I would hope everyone will try to refrain from using it and be aware when you hear it that it is just not “ok” anymore.

I have spent every day for the past 14.5 years dealing with disability. My daughter’s disabilities are profound, and mental retardation is not even one of them. I have seen so many children work as hard as they possibly can to overcome some disabilities and/or to adapt to others. Every minute of every day for these kids is hard work. Some of them do have mental retardation, but I have yet to meet one who is stupid.

Don’t equate the two. Eliminate that word from your vocabulary. Do it just for me.

At the very least, don’t use it around me.

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